ART DE­TAIL

An in­spir­ing time­line of art by South African women

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT SUE WILLIAMSON PHO­TOGRAPHS DAVID HAR­RI­SON, SERGE ILLIN, KAI LOGES, GE­ORGE J. OOSTHUIZEN

In a re­cent doc­u­men­tary about the in­ter­na­tional art world – The Price of Ev­ery­thing – col­lec­tors pay mind-bog­gling sums for auc­tioned work by artists such as Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. And the top prices are al­ways achieved by male artists.

In South Africa, the re­verse is true. The un­doubted queen of the auc­tion rooms is ex­pres­sion­ist painter Irma Stern (1894–1966). From 2009 to 2018, auc­tion house Strauss & Co has sold 149 Irma Stern works for a to­tal of R336 110 154. The high­est price for a South African paint­ing was R52 303 600 for Irma Stern’s ‘Arab Priest’, achieved by Bon­hams fine art auc­tion­eers in London in 2011.

When it comes to liv­ing artists, Mar­lene Du­mas, a Michaelis School of Fine Art grad­u­ate who has lived and worked in Am­s­ter­dam for decades, came close to that in 2008 when Sotheby’s London sold her haunt­ing fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing ‘The Vis­i­tor’ for R47 788 000. At that time, this was the top price ever reached at an auc­tion for a work by a woman artist.

What are the fac­tors that have al­lowed women artists in South Africa to ac­quire such trac­tion in the auc­tion rooms? And to be so cen­tral to the arts in gen­eral?

Even in our pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, women were al­ways key not only to the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, but also to the cul­tural life of the na­tion. Irma Stern and fel­low ex­pres­sion­ist Maggie Laub­ser were highly re­garded in their own time. In the 1960s, Gla­dys Mgud­landlu be­came the first black woman to hold solo ex­hi­bi­tions in all the ma­jor South African cities, with her vig­or­ously painted ru­ral land­scapes and views of the crowded black town­ships.

Artists and gal­lerists are in­ter­de­pen­dent,

and it was a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in South Africa’s art world when Linda Givon (then Good­man) opened the doors of the Good­man Gallery in Hyde Park, Jo­han­nes­burg in 1966, bring­ing a global view­point to a some­what pro­vin­cial art world. The Good­man con­tin­ues to be one of the coun­try’s pre­em­i­nent gal­leries and, since Givon’s re­tire­ment, is now un­der the vi­brant di­rec­tor­ship of Liza Essers.

Among the es­tab­lished artists whose bril­liant early work has led to a long ca­reer of out­stand­ing achieve­ment, one must list Penny Siopis and Jane Alexan­der. Siopis has pro­gressed through many provoca­tive, suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tions since her pop­u­lar early ‘cake’ paint­ings, and the enor­mous free-form process paint­ings in ink and glue in her Trans­fig­ure se­ries (2017) were a high­light at the open­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Zeitz Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Africa (MOCAA).

Alexan­der’s malevolent ‘Butcher Boys’ (1985–6), con­sist­ing of three hu­man-an­i­mal hy­brid fig­ures seated on a bench, is one of the most fa­mous pieces in the col­lec­tion of Iziko South African Na­tional Gallery. Alexan­der has con­tin­ued build­ing up and adding to an ex­ten­sive com­pany of odd crea­tures who play roles in her trou­bling in­stal­la­tions, in­clud­ing ‘Fron­tier with Church’ (2012–3), seen re­cently at Steven­son gallery in Cape Town.

Both Siopis and Alexan­der have also been in­spir­ing lec­tur­ers to gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents. An­other im­por­tant artist/ ed­u­ca­tor is Berni Searle, now di­rec­tor of her alma mater, the Michaelis

School of Fine Art. In her ‘Home and Away’ (2003) Searle is filmed in the chan­nel of ocean that di­vides Spain and Morocco, float­ing on her back in a shroud­like white fab­ric, lyri­cal but un­moored and dis­pos­sessed.

Out­side the realm of art-school-trained artists, Nde­bele painter Es­ther Mahlangu pro­gressed from ex­hibit­ing at Magi­ciens de la Terre at Cen­tre Georges Pom­pi­dou in Paris, France, in 1989, to paint­ing such di­verse ob­jects as a BMW, col­umns in Tokyo, the tail of a Bri­tish Airways plane and nu­mer­ous mu­seum walls with her flaw­less and spon­ta­neous de­signs.

Other stars who emerged in the 1990s are video artists Tracey Rose and Min­nette Vári, and painter Lisa Brice, who’s had a pres­ti­gious solo show at Tate Bri­tain in 2018. In­ter­na­tional art star Candice Bre­itz – who co-rep­re­sented South Africa at the Venice Bi­en­nale last year – has seen her video in­stal­la­tion, ‘Love Story’ (2016) sched­uled for ex­hi­bi­tion at nine dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums across the globe.

The younger gen­er­a­tion in­cludes mul­ti­me­dia artist Di­neo Seshee Bopape, sculp­tor Nandipha Mn­tambo, sculp­tor, pho­tog­ra­pher, and vis­ual artist Mary Sibande ( hon­oured by one of two 2017 African Art Awards at the Na­tional Mu­seum of African Art in Wash­ing­ton DC) and per­for­mance artists Gabrielle Go­liath and the 11-strong iQhiya artists col­lec­tive. Sculp­tor Bron­wyn Katz cur­rently has a solo show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and there is also the ex­tra­or­di­nary Zanele Muholi, who has com­bined art and LGBTQI+ ac­tivism in her pho­tographs, now seen around the world.

Women hold up half the sky.

The 11-strong iQhiya col­lec­tive of young black women artists makes its de­but with an ac­claimed per­for­mance piece at Great­more Stu­dios in Cape Town Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist Mary Sibande is awarded the an­nual African Art Award at the Na­tional Mu­seum of African Art in Wash­ing­ton DC Sculp­tor Nandipha Mn­tambo’s body of work to date is cel­e­brated through an ex­ten­sive solo show at the open­ing of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town 2016 2017 2017 2017 Di­neo Seshee Bopape is one of four win­ners of the Shar­jah Bi­en­nial Prize 2017 and de­buts her new in­stal­la­tion, ‘+/1791 (mon­u­ment to the haitian rev­o­lu­tion 1791)’ at the event 2018 As co-founder of 3rd Eye Vi­sion and the cu­ra­tor of the Berlin Bi­en­nale 2018, Gabi Ng­cobo brings African artists to the cen­tre of in­ter­na­tional art events

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